Emo Revival: come for the hits, stay for the tunes

bohannonFor a few decades now, guitar music has “been on the decline.” Since the ’80s, people have claimed that music moved on, and since the ’80s, that has not been true at all.

Even in the late 2000s, when electro-pop and chill-wave had seemingly taken over both mainstream and independent music media, a healthy stream of guitar-heavy punk and indie bands put out incredible music. This kind of underdog story suits punk well. Flying comfortably, slightly below the radar, punk and indie rock flourished since the mid-’80s.

The music media, for the most part, played a big role in this. Magazines, blogs and even MTV hyped a few bands without ever making them too popular — giving bands their 15 minutes of fame without over-exposing them. In other words, doing everything possible to keep them just out of reach of the limelight.

 

 

As the music media took to the Internet, a new power hierarchy of taste-makers was born. The likes of Rolling Stone, Spin and NME gave way to blogs like Pitchfork, Stereogum and even NPR.

This new wave of online music journalism has unprecedented taste-making power. The web gives millions of people access to millions of bands. Getting hyped on a big name blog is huge and can make or break a band’s future. No longer is independent music and counter culture tied down by the Zines and Inkies of the past.

This shift to the Internet does so much good for music, art and expression, it allowed countless people in small towns to find bands they never would have had the opportunity to discover. Could you imagine living in the middle of nowhere, Idaho. in the ’80s? I could never imagine living in a world without online music.

Catastrophically, the online tastemakers are aware of their power.

As a result of this awareness, something happened in the world of music. Something that has subtly been occurring more frequently over the past few years — content farming.

Content farming is the practice of creating buzz around a genre or band for the sake of online popularity. Easily disguised as originality, content farming leads to the creation and demise of many sub-genres and bands.

Remember the band Black Kids? If you don’t, don’t worry, you aren’t alone. In 2007, they released the “Wizards of Ahh” EP to much critical acclaim, including a top 5 hit in the U.K., an 8.4 out of 10 and the “Best New Music Stamp” from Pitchfork. A year later, the band’s debut album received a 0 out of 10 from Pitchfork, as well as one of its most hilarious and adorable reviews. The score was later changed from 0 out of 10 to 3.3 out of 10.

This is just one example of content farming. The sad reality of a band or entire sub-genre having the ground pulled from beneath its feet is becoming more and more common. One album, song or mixtape is released to great fanfare, then the next one is panned to oblivion.

Internet-publication-based content farming, made necessary by shorter news cycle, has a significant impact on the music world. Bands face a shorter shelf life because of society’s decreasing attention span. Together, the sheer volume of music released on a day-to-day basis, as well as the breakneck speed of online journalism, make unparalleled changes to the music industry.

Emo Revival is the latest example of the music media spinning the record for clicks.

Emo shouldn’t be confused with scream-o or metal core. It intricately balances the influence of classic indie rock and pop punk. There are killer hooks, that classic quiet/loud dynamic, earnest lyrics and infectious melodies.

Make no mistake, Emo Revival is cool. The music is good, catchy, relatable and refreshing. Bands all over the country throw back to the sounds of Sunny Day Real Estate and Weezer by blending the influences of classic indie rock with classic emo to create something worth talking about and listening to.

Over the past year, numerous lists similar to Stereogum’s “12 Bands to Know From the Emo Revival” and Pitchforks “Your New Favorite Emo Band” have been published. Emo Revival grew from nothing, and it’s not done growing yet. Modern Baseball, Iron Chic and Cloakroom all just released killer albums that are full of promise and show signs of a bright future.

Despite all the great music and hype, this is is not a revival. It’s just content farming.

The cool kids in the music media shunned emo for a few years, but it never went away. The music media forgot about it and moved on. There is a steady stream of emo music between the early 2000s and today, but in this last decade, the music media hyped other things. Bigger, better and more exciting things were happening — but emo never died.

Think about ska for a second — by no means is it in style these days. You won’t see too many people wearing checkerboard slip on Vans these days. It still exists, though, and I’m going to assume that there are still bands putting out pretty good ska music. Does this mean ska is dead? Certainly not. It’s just not as popular as it once was.

That was the state of emo until about a year ago, when the term Emo Revival started popping up. It’s not fair for the music media to treat a cultural movement this way. These bands worked hard for years, only to earn their break at the mercy of blogs, who only hype them because they need content to hype.

Content farming happens for numerous reasons — maybe it’s a slow year for major releases, maybe readers are getting bored of the same old news about last year’s buzz bands or maybe a blog is losing readership and needs to discover something “new.” At a point, it all becomes cultural appropriation. Inflating the careers and statuses of musicians for the sole sake of buzz is morally wrong and not sustainable.

Despite all the good the Internet does for the music industry, bands and listeners alike, the cycle of online news and content farming are destroying the industry from the ground up. The merits of musicians are forsaken in favor of buzz, and trends are cut to size before they have a chance to run the course.

As consumers of media and lovers of music, we seriously need to re-evaluate the state of music media. The music industry needs to let artists grow and develop with time and not cast them aside within one album cycle.

Reach the columnist at jpbohann@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @JordanBohannon